By: Candess Zona-Mendola
The month of May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, and today, May 19th, is Hepatitis Testing Day. In recognition of this important day, we at UnsafeFoods want to take this opportunity to spread the word about the types of Hepatitis, why it is a concerning disease, and the importance of testing. Did you know that, according to the United States Health and Human Services, millions of Americans are currently living with chronic viral hepatitis and they do not even know it yet? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate more than four million Americans in the United States live with chronic Hepatitis.
What is Hepatitis?
The World Health Organization defines Hepatitis as, “an inflammation of the liver.” Although the infection is commonly caused by a virus, there are other potential causes. These pay include: medications, illicit drug use, outside pollutants or toxins, and even excessive alcohol consumption. For some individuals, their bodies can develop an autoimmune disorder called “autoimmune hepatitis” where their body creates antibodies that fight their liver tissue.
Why is the Liver so Important?
Your liver is one of the most essential components of your body’s metabolism. In fact, the liver has over 500 different functions for the body. Some of the functions the liver is responsible for include:
- Making and Eliminating Bile
- Eliminating bilirubin, cholesterol, hormones, and drugs
- Converting and metabolizing fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
- Storing of glycogen, vitamins, minerals, etc.
- Blood filtering and cleaning
- Extra blood storage
- Helps maintain electrolyte and water balance
- Removed damages blood cells
- Helps maintain blood pressure
- Breaks down toxins
- Provides clotting factors
A person cannot live without their liver. However, did you know that you can live with only part of it? In fact, the liver is the only organ in the human body that can re-grow after damage or partial surgical removal. Regrowth can happen as quickly as a few months.
Types of Hepatitis
In light of the latest recall of Ahi tuna in Hawaii, Hepatitis A has made lots of headlines in the news. But did you know that there are several types of Hepatitis? The World Health Organization breaks down the types as:
“There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.”
According to the CDC, “… more than 60 percent of liver cancer cases are related to hepatitis B or C.”
Someone does not become infected with each form of Hepatitis in the same way. Hepatitis A, which is passed by transmission through microscopic amounts of fecal matter which can be passed through contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, which is passed through bodily fluids, so is usually only passed through sexual activity though it can also be passed at the time of birth, through shared needles and Hepatitis C, which is passed through blood, usually through contaminated needles.
Hepatitis A and E– The Foodborne Illness Types
Hepatitis A and E is a fairly rare forms of foodborne illness. The CDC estimates that there are less than 5,000 cases of Hepatitis A poisoning per year in the United States. This is likely due to the success of the Hepatitis A vaccine – a safe and effective way to prevent a Hepatitis infection. The vaccine was first introduced in 1995, and immediately led to a sharp decline in Hepatitis A cases. The number of Hepatitis A cases reached a high point of almost 40,000 cases in 1989. Many people in the general population may have already received the vaccination, as the CDC recommends that all children be vaccinated at the age of one. The vaccine should be effective for 25 years in adults and around 17 years in children. In addition to children at the age of one, the CDC also recommends the vaccination for those with certain risk factors, including those living in or traveling to areas with a high level of Hepatitis infection rates, those working in hospitals and research facilities, and those with chronic liver diseases.
Hepatitis E is not often seen in the United States, but predominately in developing countries. A 2005 study from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases estimates that there are about 20 million infections and 3.3 million acute cases that happen per year worldwide. According to the World Health organization:
“The disease is common in resource-limited countries with limited access to essential water, sanitation, hygiene and health services. In these areas, the disease occurs both as outbreaks and as sporadic cases. The outbreaks usually follow periods of [fecal] contamination of drinking water supplies and may affect several hundred to several thousand persons. Some of these outbreaks have occurred in areas of conflict and humanitarian emergencies, such as war zones, and in camps for refugees or internally displaced populations (IDP), situations where sanitation and safe water supply pose special challenges.”
For more information about the types of Hepatitis, you can visit the CDC’s ABC’s of Viral Hepatitis here.
Getting Testing is So Easy!
The CDC has provided an easy online tool to assess whether you may need to be tested for Hepatitis. You can access the tool here. It is important to note that symptoms of Hepatitis may not be expressed, so preventative testing is a good idea regardless of score. Ask your doctor or your local health department about how you can get tested. A simple blood test is usually all that is needed.
For those who believe they have eaten a product contaminated with Hepatitis A or E, urgent medical testing is recommended. Even though these types do not typically cause chronic issues, they could still cause liver concerns. Early medical intervention could help reduce long-term complications and prevent the spread of illness. According to the CDC, “[l]ifesaving treatments are available for chronic hepatitis B and new treatments are available that can cure hepatitis C Still, getting tested is the only way to know if you are infected.”
We at UnsafeFoods wish all of you a healthy Hepatitis Testing Day and Hepatitis Awareness Month.